Refuge Farms home of "Horses Helping..."

Healing Horses
Posted: 7:58 PM Dec 29, 2007
Last Updated: 7:58 PM Dec 29, 2007
Reporter: Katie Heinz
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A western Wisconsin organization is bringing together humans and horses in a unique way.

Refuge Farms, Incorporated in St. Croix County rescues and accepts horses, although the agency's owner says the animals often help people more than they help them. This quiet farm and these open fields near Spring Valley serve as home to 18 rescued horses.

"We take the horses that have no options - the horses that are very old, they're sickly, they have broken or damaged legs," said Refuge Farms, Inc. Executive Director Sandy Gilbert.

Gilbert says Refuge Farms, Inc. is a sanctuary for horses no one else wants - those that are too thin to slaughter, blind or full of tumors.

"A very dear friend of mine bought a Clydesdale colt being fattened for kill," Gilbert said. "He called him Charity Case. He handed me the reins and said Sandy, take that horse and make a difference in somebody's life with it. And that's how Refuge Farms started."

Gilbert says she wanted to create a place where the horses are given a chance to live, and a chance to help others.

"We call them ministers with the public," Gilbert said.

In fact, these healing horses can create magic for those who visit them.

"I've seen a young woman with terminal cancer come to the farm and bury her face in the side of a horse because that horse doesn't try and tell her it's going to be OK, he just listens," Gilbert said. "They're not like people," said 13-year-old Makenna Johnson, who frequently visits Refuge Farms. "They don't tell you what you have to do. They listen. They don't tell you you're not good enough."

A New Year's celebration at the Refuge Saturday helped dozens of people of all ages experience a bit of that magic.

It's something Refuge Farms, Inc. volunteer Kathy Myren says she's experienced first-hand through cleaning the barn and feeding the animals.

"When we're down, you'll see someone go to one of the horses and you can tell they're connecting, even with talking or brushing," Myren said.

Johnson says that connection has made a big impact in her life - so much so that she brings others here every year to celebrate her birthday.

"Instead of presents, I ask for donations for the farm so the horses can have hay," Johnson said.

And so these gentle giants can continue to spread their love.

Seventy-one horses have come through Refuge Farms, Incorporated since the organization got up and running in 1978.

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